Perhaps the most welcome phone call you can get as a CEO is the one that asks you if you are interested in selling your company. This is the realization of years of hard work, dedication and potentially financial independence. You slowly engage with the potential buyer and so excited are you that you announce to the management and staff that The Company is going to be acquired.


Over the following weeks, though, you sense a change in mood within the staff and things aren’t going as smoothly as you had hoped. The process is more involved than you originally thought—but having sold lots of big ticket solutions, selling the company can’t be all that different, can it? You pause for thought and determine the change is probably due to the excitement everyone is keeping quiet about. The process rolls on…


The work preparing the documents required by the buyer is becoming tedious, and you question the necessity for the buyer to really want them all. (And the process rolls on.) Strangely enough, you’ve never been busier. For you, that’s a sign you’re starting to live life in the fast lane. The buyer has sent his team of suits to your offices and it feels even more real. In fact, you couldn’t make the customer meeting you had been asked to attend. It just goes to show that when you go up a level, certain things have to make way for the important stuff you’ve got going on. It can’t get any more important than the buyer’s M&A team coming to town, can it?


The quarter end is looming fast and at the last update call the numbers were looking good, so you have no worries there. That’s why they want us, you tell yourself, good product, great team. You excuse yourself from the forecast update call as you have a breakfast meeting with the Head of Corporate development for the buyer. This is what you knew it was going to be like – back to back meetings and discussions about many new things which you hadn’t fully understood were that important.


You feel vindicated that you turned down the opportunity of getting an outside partner to help with the process. After all, what were they going to bring to the table that you couldn’t deal with? Besides that, they will want big fees for very little effort.


You tell your executive assistant that you cannot take calls for most of the day, as you need to review a big document the buyer has sent you and you need to respond to it today. Your EA reminds you that you have a call with one of your biggest clients just after lunch, but you ask her to rearrange the call for some time in the next two weeks as you’re really too busy with all this M&A stuff. It’s fascinating learning about this side of business. The process rolls on…


You get a call late one night from your head of sales informing you that he’s going to accept a role with another firm, claiming he’s been offered some stock options with the new role. You feel suddenly frustrated you hadn’t tied down some of the key people with the option plans you discussed a few years ago. He tells you the numbers are still OK for the quarter, which is some comfort at least.


Strangely enough, and ever more maddening, when you get to the office the next day you learn that some of the junior developers have resigned. That’s their loss, you privately think. You ask your marketing guy to take care of the forecast until the end of the quarter, as you have to meet with the team from the buyers all day. The process rolls on…


Now some technical problems appear with the new release, which is due for launch next quarter, but you’ve always had a great technical team who never fail to deal with these things—but you can’t worry about that now, as the Corporate Development guy wants an unscheduled meeting.  He tells you that the due diligence process has revealed that the numbers for this quarter are unlikely to be met, and also there are some compatibility issues with the new release of software. You ask him how he knows this and he states that the head of marketing told him, and the loss of a number of your development team means the new release will be delayed as the problems can’t be fixed.


Your EA puts her head around the door and reveals the biggest customer you have is on the line and doesn’t seem happy. You tell her you’ll call him back as soon as you can. The Corp Dev guy says that he also knows that your biggest customer wouldn’t give you a reference when his team called them, which has caused some real problems. In fact, he says they are going to step back from the acquisition for the time being, as there are a number of things which don’t sit right with them.


The process no longer rolls on.


In the end, you missed the quarter, your new product will not be released on time (in fact, there’s serious doubt about its future), the deal is off and six members of staff have left, all from product development. You feel miserable and your EA brings you a cup of coffee to calm you. You ask her what has suddenly gone wrong. She simply tells you that nothing has suddenly gone wrong—it’s been happening over the last few months, ever since you were asked to sell the company. She goes on to tell you that you have been too busy for people to talk to, and that you haven’t been running the business the way you had been before.

Things have ground to a halt, and your business is now at a critical point—regain the momentum or fail. You sit back in your chair and close your eyes. When you open them, you’re on your own with your coffee. Next to it is a note your EA has left you, and a business card. You read the note. It says, “When a man stares into the abyss and nothing stares back, it’s at that moment he finds his character, and that’s what stops him from falling into the abyss”.  


The business card is from the guy at Corum who you turned down.